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As the director of a long-time social service agency, the leader of an all-volunteer community group committed to sharing essential life resources with the homeless and needy as well as the pastor of a local church, I daily experience the huge, overwhelming needs of the many, many individuals and families who simply do not have enough money, clothing, diapers, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper, blankets, (and the sad list goes on and on), to meet their own needs.

This isn’t just a “one-time thing” or a “tough season” or “we’ll make it til payday” crisis for these folks. It’s their sad, heartbreaking reality, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year.

Yes, there are agencies, churches, groups and simply good people who do share and give and that certainly helps. But, I must confess, the resources available to share and help that homeless man or that single mother or that young person struggling with substance abuse is so small compared to the incomparably huge needs that we are confronted with every single moment we work in our community. We can only share what is available.

I would also be remiss if I didn’t also make you aware that Clinton has disproportionally large numbers of people who are homeless. Think about that: As we go home every night to a nice, warm house or apartment, there are more people than could fit into many churches in the Gateway area that are going to sleep on a cold sidewalk, hoping that they wake up the next morning. There are also many parents who are making horrifically painful choices: “Do I eat or will my little girl eat?”

You can do something about this. I would encourage you, before you do any Christmas shopping, to make a generous, tax deductible gift to one of the several agencies that help those in need. Perhaps you could divide your gifts between several agencies. You’ll be glad you did.

Together, we can make a difference for a person in need in our own community.

Chuck Johnson, Associate Benevolent Society director, Clinton

It may be difficult to see, but there are many in our community that struggle on a daily basis with the very basic of needs. Whether it be wondering when their next meal is going to be, how to get to work that day or where they will find shelter for the night, these basic needs that some of us may take for granted remain a constant worry for many people in our community. But there are ways to help.

Over 40 percent of Clinton families are in poverty or Asset Limited Income Constrained Employment (ALICE). These are families working hard to make ends meet but still struggle on a daily basis, oftentimes forced to make hard decisions like, “If I eat will there be enough for my children?” or “How can I pay for this needed prescription and pay the heat bill?” For some, one missed day of work due to unreliable transportation or a child home sick from school with no child care available can lead to devastating consequences like not having enough to pay for rent and becoming homeless. Information, Referral & Assistance can help with such needs with United Way support, church support, agency coordination and private donations but the needs are larger than the resources available.

While there are homeless shelters available for Clinton residents, the reality is there is not enough adequate shelter for all that have the need. Some families and individuals are forced to sleep on the street, in their car if they are lucky enough to have one, and for some an abandoned building because there are no other options for their situations. There are many that are fortunate enough to stay with friends or family for a day or two but find themselves” couch surfing” as they struggle to find permanent housing of their own.

Finding suitable shelter is not the only need in our community that agencies are working to address. Last year Information, Referral & Assistance Services, through Pantries United, assisted 2,051 families including 5,167 individuals. Some of these families and individuals must rely on the pantry sites monthly to make ends meet or they would have to go without, while others find themselves having a one-time need.

Unfortunately many of the families experiencing food insecurity include children. An alarming 61 percent of children attending Clinton schools are receiving free and reduced lunches. Food insecurity is especially harmful to children because they are more sensitive to the harmful effects of food insecurity and the long-term ramifications can be more severe. Poor nutrition and episodes of hunger subject children to increased health risks and impaired cognitive development.

This can have a direct impact on a child’s ability to concentrate and perform at school. Children who are food insecure lack the energy, are sick more often, recover slower and find it harder to handle complicated social situations or adapt to environmental stresses.

Information, Referral & Assistance provides the Backpack Buddy Program to children identified by school teachers at the Clinton Middle School and Jefferson, Bluff, Eagle Heights and Whittier elementary schools. The program provides weekend food packages when free and reduced breakfast and lunches are not available to the approximately 170 children in need every weekend throughout the school year.

I have submitted this letter in observance of the National Hunger and Homelessness Week. This week is meant as a reminder that there are those less fortunate in communities all over America. If you have the opportunity to help in any way during this time when support is needed most, please look up your local social service agencies to inquire about services available and how you can support the many families and individuals in need in our community.

Regan Michaelsen, Information, Referral & Assistance executive director